Gospel of John and the Christian Wisdom Tradition

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Retreat on the Gospel of John

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#set-gospel-of-john-and-christian-wisdom

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She seeks this pasture, the Word, her bridegroom, where the Father feeds in infinite glory. So we want to feed on what the Father feeds on, and that's Jesus, or the Wisdom of God, the Bread of Life. And she seeks the place where He rests with infinite delight and love, deeply hidden from every mortal eye. Father, we need a son, and a husband. Heavenly Father, enlighten our hearts with that Word which breathes forth love, that

[01:02]

Word which is your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. So now I'm going to talk into a microphone. In talking about this whole Wisdom thing, we can get a little sick to our stomachs after a while, because it seems, actually we sense a little exaggeration, a little imbalance after a while. In fact, we almost have sticky fingers after a while, because Wisdom becomes such a possession. And we have to remember that this whole Wisdom thing has a big shadow side. If you remember the way that Wisdom, the context that it had in the Old Testament, it was associated with a more or less royal tradition. In other words, it was associated with a power class, but sometimes with a leisure class, and was sometimes quite blind to other realities around it, just as was the ruling class very

[02:04]

frequently in Israel. And what ambiguity, what ambivalence, the king was always held by the prophets, by the writers of the Old Testament books. And so it is a little bit with Wisdom. So we need to think about that now. We've been talking about it only in positive terms. We need to come around and look at the other side. Remember King Solomon, the wise man, our excellence, the kind of archetype of the wise man, really turned rather sour towards the end of his life. He was too wise for his own good. And so it is. There's a contradiction to Wisdom. And as soon as we look at Jesus, who was Wisdom incarnate, we see that. The way that he's hidden. If you read the servant poems in Isaiah, you see that, especially if you're looking towards Jesus. We'll get back to that in a little while. The prophetic voice was very often the one that came around and gave the other perspective that brought in what had been left out. And what had been left out was very frequently the poor. What had been left out was very frequently humanity.

[03:07]

Wisdom could very easily become kind of turned in on itself and self-centered. On the other hand, Wisdom could also open itself to a kind of universalism. And this seems to have happened frequently during times of trouble, times of exile in particular. So we see that there are kind of two faces, two brands of this Wisdom. There's a certain Wisdom which seems to come to the surface in time of exile. And I think that we're in a time of exile. And that's one of the reasons why we're ripe for the emergence of a certain Wisdom tradition in Christianity, once again, I believe. A Wisdom tradition which brings us, once again, to universalism. Where we begin to be able to look outside our own fences without contempt. That is, in a spirit of doubt, in a spirit of respect. But at the same time, without sort of giving up our roots. In a spirit also of confidence in our own faith, in our own roots. Remember, Jesus doesn't talk so positively about the wise and the understanding.

[04:11]

He says, Father, I thank you for having hidden these things from the wise and understanding and having revealed them to babes. Nobody knows the Father except the Son. Nobody knows the Son except the Father. And in Matthew, nobody knows the Father except the Son. And those to whom the Son chooses to reveal it. And then he goes right into a Wisdom language. Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and burdened, and I'll give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. In other words, he is the Wisdom into which he's built this paradox. The wise and the understanding don't see this Wisdom. Don't see it. The powerful don't see it. St. Paul has those extremely strong words in 1 Corinthians. I think it's the second chapter where he says, the wise and the powerful of this world, the wise ones too, they didn't know this Wisdom which was Jesus Christ. And he puts it in other words. For they wouldn't have crucified the King of Glory. And yet he says at the same time, this Wisdom is something that God has decreed for our glorification.

[05:14]

So it's connected with Glory, but with God's Glory. Which in some way is the opposite from the kind of Glory that we usually seek, even if it's only internally, in our seeking of Wisdom. John of the Cross is the one who talks about the whole purification journey from one to the other. St. Paul says, I chose to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is where he's talking about the Wisdom, the Word of the Cross in 1 Corinthians 2. Yet a little later he says, we do seek a Wisdom. We do have a Wisdom to impart among the perfect. So, two sides. We'll never be able to put it in one expression. Wisdom can be, this search for Wisdom can be a kind of self-indulgence, a kind of vanity, a kind of sensuality. Also a kind of control, wanting to have the handle. On the other hand, there's something that should be pointed out about Christianity and about our whole Western tradition.

[06:14]

You know how many people have a distaste for not only Christianity but Judaism and everything that comes in our revelation of the Word, everything that comes from our tradition. They consider it just to be completely negative. You should steal out of that, California. It's as if Judaism and Christianity, the Old Law and the New Law, come along just to present us with a kind of harsh Word of God, a harsh and demanding law which negates everything in our own nature and everything in our own hearts. That's the way a lot of people see Christianity. And it's not entirely their fault. It's not entirely simply because they're in the dark. Something happens in the Jewish tradition, in the Christian tradition, in the monastic tradition. One, two, three, just like that, one on top of the other. As soon as you begin to interpret Judaism, Israel, as being a kind of law put on nature or a kind of negative restriction of nature, let's put it that way. Take nature and then build Israel on top of it.

[07:16]

Build the revelation of the Old Testament on top of nature and call it the law. You've immediately begun to shift the revelation into a negative light. In other words, you've got to see revelation as being life, first of all. You've got to see religious life as being life and then religious. You've got to see Christianity not just as being the cross, but Christianity being a revelation of life which has this paradox of the cross inside of it, of which you can say really just reveals that paradox that's already built into nature. The same with monasticism. If you look at monasticism simply as being the life of renunciation, you'll kill yourself psychologically. In other words, it becomes totally repulsive at a certain point. Monastic life has to be life, first of all, and then it can be renunciation. And it can't be renunciation of life except in favor of greater life. There have been times when Christianity has been preached as if it were simply the cross, only you're supposed to love it.

[08:16]

But you can't love the cross unless you see the light of the resurrection coming through it. It's got to be preached as life, and that's what it is. Our whole revelation tends to get inverted. It's a kind of demonic thing. It tends to turn into black instead of white. One on top of the other. Old Testament revelation, New Testament revelation, Old Testament just the law, New Testament just the cross. Monastic life is simply a kind of accentuation. So you have three levels of bad news instead of three kinds of good news. Monastic life is life, first of all, and then it's renunciation. But we very easily slip into this. There's something in our nature that lets it happen. And then we've got some pernicious currents in Christian history like Jansenism that have just made kind of business out of that. Okay. Wisdom has a lot to do with this. Wisdom involves a kind of reconciliation of nature. It involves the rediscovery of the heart, for instance,

[09:17]

the rediscovery of your own nature functioning properly. That's what Saint Benedict is talking about when he says, the nature of what will run in the commandments of the Lord will be put in harsh sorts. He talks about this ineffable love, this ineffable joy in our hearts. That's what he's talking about, really. He's talking about wisdom. He doesn't use that language. It's just an alternative language. It's a language we need nowadays. Okay, I wanted to look at a kind of geometry in the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of John at the point that we've got to. I'm kind of rushing up a bit to John 12 and John 13. And we see Jesus rising to a certain peak, as it were, of public favor. And this happens in one way or another in all the Gospels, I think. And then he begins to decline. And then another movement starts. There's an ascent and then there's a descent. And in the other Gospels, it looks a little bit like the transfiguration of the ascent reaches its peak,

[10:20]

even though that's not a public manifestation. It only took three disciples. And before and after the transfiguration, there's a prediction of Jesus' passion. And then in St. Luke, soon after, he sets his face to go towards Jerusalem, towards his death. So there's this movement upwards, a peak, which in some way reflects the resurrection to come, the transfiguration. It's an anticipation of foreshowing of the resurrection. And then down towards the death. And then after that, there's another rise which can no longer be represented on the graph because it's simply in another dimension, the resurrection itself. In John, it's as if it happens in chapter 12. And it's pretty clear that it happens in another way. Now I'm going to talk about the whole of John 12. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. And this has caused a big public stir. Remember, this is at Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, right near the stronghold of Jewish religious power there.

[11:25]

So a whole bunch of people are attracted to Jesus by this miracle. And the authorities are outraged, and they panic. And this is about the time they decide to put Jesus to death according to John 20. A high priest prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, not only for the nation, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. This is a prophecy, and this begins to, this thing about the children of God who are scattered abroad, begins to emerge in this chapter. And then there's the anointing of Jesus before the Passover by Mary. Mary of Bethany would like to go into that marvelous scene. And then there's the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. And then the Greeks come, and they want to see Jesus. They come to get his help. And then that's the point at which Jesus speaks those words that mark the beginning of the descent. And he says the seed must fall into the ground.

[12:26]

Let's take a look at the anointing of Bethany. Let me read it along with the accounts from the other Gospels. There's a similar anointing, you see, in all four Gospels, but this particular synopsis happens to put them side by side. Some of them wouldn't recognize them as being the same. But I think it's instructive if we do that. In Matthew, Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. He's still Bethany, notice. And it's a similar situation, similar event. Same in Mark. In Luke, one of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him. He went into the Pharisees' house. And it turns out that Simon the leper and the Pharisee are pretty much the same character. They speak the same way. Whereas in John, it's Jesus going to the house of his three friends. And remember that Lazarus had just been raised from the dead, and Lazarus is there at supper. So what happens and what Mary does reflects her response to what Jesus has done in the case of Lazarus. And it turns out as well to be a prophetic response,

[13:29]

pointing towards Jesus not only as burial, but as resurrection, an anointing of Jesus, symbolizing somehow, in some way, the resurrection of his body. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper. Martha served as usual. And Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of coastal ointment of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. Now in the other Gospels, in one Gospel, it's a woman who is a sinner. That's not in Matthew, it seems to me. No. In Matthew, they're only indignant whether because of the waste. But in Mark and in Luke, this is a sinful woman. And here there's a very interesting confusion with a few women in our Catholic tradition. One is the sinful woman who anoints the feet of Jesus, who breaks the jar of ointment over Jesus.

[14:31]

The second one is Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus has cast seven devils. It's by no means evident from the Gospels that they're the same woman. The tradition has put them together. And the third is Mary of Bethany. And up to a little while ago, it seems to me, that at least Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were celebrated in one prayer. In the liturgy, there's no change in that. But this confusion is not just confusion. The tradition understands something in its kind of, what would you call it, in its poma, you can call it. That's not a fortunate word. But what I mean is that there really is a common trait in these three women. And it's as if all of the women in the Gospel, especially in the Gospel of John, let me put it that way, turn out to be one woman. In some way, symbolically, they're one woman. That one woman turns out to be alternatively the bride and wisdom. And in some way, both of them together. Wisdom, you see, has two aspects. There's the wisdom which is incarnate in Jesus, the Word of God which becomes flesh.

[15:32]

And there's the wisdom which mankind becomes transformed into as it is united with the Word, as it becomes the body of the Word, as St. Paul would put it, as it's married to the Word. That's called creativism, if you will. That's the Church. So, Mary took this vow of close alignment, of pure in heart, and anointed the feet of Jesus. In the other, in Luke, there's this wonderful symbol of the symbolic act of breaking the flask of ointment, kind of the total gift, which is symbolic both of the body of Jesus in some way, if you see it in John, and also the total gift of the woman. And anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Everything that happens here is worth reflection. And this scene, it's just good to look at. Look at what's happening, just sink into it very gently. And then Judas, one of his disciples who was to betray him said,

[16:34]

why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii? Judas doesn't understand this act of total gift. He doesn't understand this symbol. And so, like St. Paul says, the fragrance of the Gospel, the fragrance of salvation, is life to some and death to others. And to Judas, it's death in some way. That's another pitch in that movement towards his betrayal of the Lord. You see, as he compares this with his monetary scale, just the same as he weighs up Jesus on his monetary scale later on, he doesn't understand how the value of this which is before him in Christ outweighs any possible price. And so he puts a price on it, just as he tries to do here, in what seems like a charitable suggestion. Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor? And so on. He has the money bucks. Jesus says, let her alone, better keep it for the day of my burial. Now this is the way it goes in Mark.

[17:36]

Nothing about Judas. The disciples complained, why this waste? This might have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor. But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. Now, compare that with what John says. John puts it in symbolic terms. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Do you get it? The way, in some way, wherever this gospel is preached, the aroma of what this signifies will fill the earth as it were, will fill the house, will fill the body of Christ in any way. It's the aroma of the gospel, which in some way is the fragrance of wisdom. But this woman has symbolized it by her heart. The woman who understands intuitively and instinctively and not rationally.

[18:37]

So she performs this symbolic gesture by pure intuition of the heart, which immediately, directly and exactly meets what Jesus is doing himself in his gift to himself, in his death, and also what he is, you see. This fragrance of wisdom, which is not just the word, but the word which somehow... And then it somehow reflects back also to that scene with Macklin in the garden, in John 20, in which it's like Adam and Eve back again in the garden of paradise. It's like the Song of Songs, you know. In fact, there are a couple of verses in the Song of Songs that reflect this. These things are very fugitive, and you only get a glimpse of them like in John, but they're also quite sure when you keep finding them. While the king was on his carriage, my nard gave forth its fragrance. In various places in John you find these reflections to the Song of Songs, at particular places, not scattered throughout, only at particular places.

[19:39]

There's something at the marriage feast of Cana, there's something here, there's something in the anointing of Mary, that is. And then finally, in the meeting of Jesus and Magdalene, when Jesus is risen from the dead in John 20, that's where it sort of falls together. Remember the series of encounters with the women that we've had, once again. Mary, again, at the wedding feast of Cana and the wine. The Samaritan woman at the well, and the living water. We're going to have the women at the cross, and out of Jesus pours the water and the blood, and he gives up his spirit. And then finally we're going to have Magdalene and her tears. And then those tears disappear, and that's it. But there's a deliberate sequence in this, in all of these women and these substances that are in water. What's offered, what's poured out. And the symbolism extends through to what Jesus is doing.

[20:41]

Who is this woman who pours herself out, as it were, upon the Word, and fills the world with a sweet fragrance? And what is it that's poured out, and by whom? It all reflects back to what Jesus is doing. And to what is the one, as it were, the one person, the one woman that's joined to Jesus in this act. There's another thing that leads forward too curiously, and I've never been able to make a lot out of it. That is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. That happens very soon after this. And it's almost as if Jesus is repeating the action of Mary. Repeating it. Almost as if he's taking on not only the role of a servant, but the role of a woman, washing the feet of his disciples. And this is a further movement in that descent we're talking about. Descent and transformation until, in some way, he's both man and woman, certainly. I say descent because of the way things were thought of in the time,

[21:50]

not because of reality. Okay, we continue with John 12. There's the entry into Jerusalem, and this moment of very fragile glory. And the Pharisees then said to one another, You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him. These are very significant, deliberate words for John. Now, among those who went up to worship the beast were some Greeks. But these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Philip went and told Andrew, anyone with Philip, and they told Jesus. Jesus answered them. Now, this is the moment when, this is the moment for Jesus really to break into the big time. This is a kind of international connection, big opportunity, I'm speaking in ironic terms. But a way of breaking out of that narrow revelation, as it were. The narrow confines of his work up to now.

[22:52]

Notice his reaction. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The glorification turns into exactly the opposite of what it seems like it ought to be. Rational. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternity. And then he says, if anyone serves me, it applies not only to him but to those who follow. He must follow me and where I am, there shall my servant be. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, he means himself. He means that he can't really complete his work unless he dies. He can't expand any further unless he contracts. He means also in some way, I think, Israel. That just as he has to go into the ground, Israel itself in some way has to go into the ground. So that the whole earth of the nations may be leavened, may be seeded. So that this life which he brings, this revelation, may extend to the whole world.

[23:57]

Now, that says something about our whole theory of asceticism and our whole theory of whatever you want. Whatever we call that kenosis and descent. What it's all about. What it's about, I think, is the whole ground. The whole earth becoming filled with the seed of the light. That's why we go into the darkness. So that somehow the light may be carried to other people. If we have to live in the darkness, if we go through a tunnel experience, if we seem to be living underground in faith sometimes, it's so in some way connected with revelation reaching others. Don't know how, but that's how it is. Now is my soul troubled. Sounds like Gethsemane. See, it's as if John has taken the Gethsemane moment and put it here. Into this moment. For his own reasons. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. When a voice came from heaven, I glorified it and I'll glorify it again. Jesus goes on. Now is the judgment of this world.

[25:01]

Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the world, from the earth, will draw all men to myself. So here's the glorification. Here's the paradoxical lifting up, which is crucifixion. And is also somehow invisibly his glorification. Invisibly but very effectively. This is how he's going to reach the Greeks. Is by being crucified and somehow releasing that power that is in him. And that can't go beyond the confines of Israel if he simply remains one man. He's going to be lifted up like a tree is lifted up on the cross. He's going to be lifted up like the sun is lifted up into the noonday sky. And thus he'll be visible to everybody. But only through this gift of faith. Nobody comes to me unless the Father draws it. So here we have the paradox expressed most sharply by Jesus. This principle of kenosis is very central in our monastic tradition.

[26:14]

I take that word from St. Paul. And St. Paul is in Philippians 2. He said, though he was equal to God, he emptied himself. Taking the form of a slave, taking the form of man, he emptied himself. We'll consider a little more tomorrow what that means in terms of wisdom. What does it mean for wisdom to empty himself? What does it mean for the light to empty itself? For the light somehow to go into the darkness, somehow to disappear into the darkness. For the light to be hidden. What does it mean for wisdom to empty itself? It means, I think, to look like a fool. For wisdom to seem to be turned into foolishness. And that's what happens with Jesus. That's what happens also in the tradition that follows Jesus. There's a revolution here that happens. Remember where Jesus says, well, the great ones and the Gentiles lord it over them. You kind of hone the people and obey them. It's not to be that way among you. It can't be that way among you. And he turns the whole thing over. That's this pivot in Christianity.

[27:15]

Which, if we misunderstand it, turns into a kind of negativity. If we understand it, it turns into a kind of liberation. You find it repeatedly in St. Paul, expressed as understood, as lived, in fact. First in the passage from Philippians 2 that I just mentioned. But then in Philippians 3, Paul's own life. Now still in the key of wisdom, in the key of this knowledge, he talks about all his privileges. You know, being a Pharisee and being one of the big wheels in Israel. But whatever gain I had, I count it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It's a knowledge. And it's a knowledge which enables him to let go of everything else. In that mustard seed, in that microscopic thing, whatever it is,

[28:17]

he's got it. He's able to let go of everything else. And it's not something he's got in his hand. It's something that's in him. It's something that's touched him. It's something that's changed him and that somehow it's nested in him. For his sake I've suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Not having a righteousness of my own based on the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. This is the pivot. This is the changeover. Resting on something you've got or resting on that faith in Christ. That point, that kind of microscopic diamond point at which it all turns. The righteousness from God depends on faith. Now, faith is a knowledge. Faith is a knowledge. But it's a knowledge that sometimes seems so small that you can't see it. It seems so dark that you can't see it. But it's light just the same. That I may know him. And the power of his resurrection may share his sufferings,

[29:18]

becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. What is that knowing? The knowing somehow is having one life with him. The knowing is knowing him in your own life. And because you know him in your own life, you're able to go through all of this. May share his sufferings. That if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. The knowledge somehow is a knowledge already of the resurrection in the middle of the dead. It's strong enough to carry him through anything. We could read a lot of other passages of St. Paul on that subject, but I won't do that now. Just let me read a little something from John of the Cross and a little something from Mark. The same time it illumines us, and at the same time it joins us to the word of God, and at the same time it is the word of God, it is the wisdom of God, and at the same time it's identical with our faith. There's one thing which John of the Cross is obsessed with,

[30:19]

and which is his key, and which seems to open all the doors, and which leads us through all these dark places. Contemplation, consequently, is called mystical theology, meaning the secret wisdom of God. Here he's talking about somebody remaining kind of in this light, which is for us darkness. He will abide in this pure and simple light and be perfectly transformed into it. This light is never lacking to the soul, but because of creature forms and veils weighing upon it and covering it, the light is never infused. The person gets by this, his soul, in its simplicity and purity, will then be transformed into simple and pure wisdom, the Son of God. That's what appears in St. John, in the Gospel, in another way. This dark night is an influence, another place that he refers to it as a ray of darkness.

[31:23]

This dark night is an inflow of God into the soul, which purges it, and which the contemplatives call infused contemplation or mystical theology. Through this contemplation, God teaches the soul secretly and instructs it in the perfection of love, without us doing anything or understanding how this happens. Insofar as infused contemplation is loving wisdom of God, it does two things in the soul. It prepares the soul for union with God through love by both purging and illumining it. Hence, the same loving wisdom that purges and illumines the blessed spirits, purges and illumines the soul here on earth. It purges us, as it were, with darkness, with its struggle against darkness. It illumines us with the light which it is. The light which actually, in the end, is God Himself. This is the Word. Merton was much taken up with St. John of the Cross early in his life, still later in his life, but later in his life, he kind of took another direction. He thought of the movement towards God, the contemplative quest,

[32:27]

as not in such deeply vertical terms as John of the Cross tends to, much more in terms of self-forgetfulness, and kind of unitive knowledge by just disappearance of the ego. Here are a couple of poems of his. This one's called Wisdom. It comes from The Strange Islands. I studied it, and it taught me nothing. This is where wisdom sort of self-destructs. I studied it, and it taught me nothing. I learned it, and soon forgot everything else. Having forgotten, I was burdened with knowledge, the insupportable knowledge of nothing. This is John of the Cross translated into another language, but a language which is much more, I think, accessible to us in meaningful words today. It's much more, it's closer to where we are, because we can't climb those steep cliffs that John of the Cross paints before us, at least most of us can't. How sweet my life would be if I were wise. Wisdom is well known, and it is no longer seen or thought of. Only then is understanding bearable. Here's another one, which you know that I heard too, from the same book.

[33:30]

When in the soul of the serene disciple with no more bothers to imitate, poverty is a success. It is a small thing to say the roof is gone. He has not even a house. Stars, as well as friends, are angry with the noble villain. Saints depart in several directions. In other words, there's nothing there to attract you. He's disappeared. You can say this may be a little dramatic, but there's something there. Saints depart in several directions. We thought there was something in this guy, but it's all gone. There's nothing here. Let's go somewhere else. I've disappointed Najib. Be still. There is no longer any need of comment. It was a lucky wind that blew away his halo with his cares. A lucky sea that drowned his reputation. This is fine, but it's always a little self-conscious, this kind of poetry, just to say that. Here you will find neither a proverb nor a memorandum. There are no ways, no methods to admire where poverty is no achievement. His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction. What choice remains?

[34:32]

Well, to be ordinary is not a choice. It is the usual freedom of men without visions. Somehow, our vocation today seems to be about there, however. To be able to know that spark of wisdom and of life and of love and of joy in the midst of ordinariness. That seems to be the only way for us today. We'll go further with this for the next time. Thank you. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Heavenly Father, awaken our hearts with your Spirit to be made in the way of the joy of the coming of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

[35:32]

Amen. I've got some material left over from yesterday. I also look at things a little confused, I think. This evening I'd like to talk about the part of John's Gospel that deals with the washing of the disciples' feet and then, that's John 13, the beginning of it, and then the trial and the passion of Jesus. And I'd like to do this now and I'll treat the supper discourse afterwards because I feel that that, in a way, is completely an exposition of the gift of what Jesus' glorification brings. It's only realized after the resurrection, so I'd like to treat it together with the resurrection narrative. Before we begin, here's a little quote from Sirach.

[36:34]

Wisdom raises her sons to greatness and cares for those who seek her. To love her is to love life. To rise early for her sake is to be filled with joy. And then a little later on. At first she will lead him, that is, her servant, by devious ways, filling him with craven fears. Her discipline will be a torment to him and her decrees a hard test until he trusts her with all his heart. Sometimes that's translated as until she can trust him. Then she will come straight back to him again and gladden him and reveal her secret to him. But if he strays from her, she will desert him and abandon him to his fate. Here we find another kind of pedagogy of wisdom that we haven't heard about yet. That is, wisdom leading us somehow through crooked and dark places. And that's what we want to talk about in these characters, actually, in John's Gospel. There's a little quote from John of the Cross, which is in the same line. And which makes the same connection between the presence of this glad wisdom

[37:44]

and the darkness that it creates. I think I read this one to you before, but just to repeat it in this context. The very loving light and wisdom into which the soul will be transformed is that which in the beginning purges and prepares it, just as the fire which transforms the wood by incorporating it into itself is that which was first preparing it for this transformation. He's not talking about it in a personal way, as Sirach does there, but it is a personal wisdom. It's the wisdom which is the Son of God, and which strangely is treated in feminine gender in the Old Testament. Second, we discern that the experience of these sufferings does not derive from this wisdom, for as the wise man says, all good things come to the soul together with her. Without this purgation, it cannot receive the divine light, sweetness, and delight of wisdom. It's like the love of wood. My soul wrestled for her, and my entrails were disturbed in acquiring her. Therefore shall I possess a good possession. That's from Sirach too. Okay. We talked yesterday about the shadow of wisdom.

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That is, there's another side of this whole wisdom tradition, this whole wisdom quest. It hangs together with a kind of ambiguity of the contemplative life. That phrase always has about it a little bit of a shadow of a leisure life which is separated from the common lot of man, the common lot of the human condition. And after all, it comes from, I think, a Platonic background. It comes from a Greek social notion. So it's not an ideal expression for the monastic life, and yet in some way it's proved itself indispensable to conserve certain values. Similarly with this notion of wisdom. If we talk about a shadow of wisdom, perhaps it's a question of our penetrating through that shadow until we arrive at a kind of wisdom which no longer has darkness inside of it. Remember what James says about God. God has no he who is above. There's no darkness in him. And every good gift that comes down from him itself has no darkness in it. The darkness somehow is in us. But there is this wisdom which is the Word of God, which is God himself, which is pure light.

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That's what we want. That's what our quest is for. And we have the consolation that that wisdom itself is leading us. It's not our trip. It's not our project. Remember the way of Jesus is a way of revelation, and then strangely a way of descent, a way of kenosis, as they use in St. Paul's language, a way of emptying. And that's what we're going to see this evening. There's a jarring note that appears in the Gospels, you remember, at a certain point. For a while there's nothing but the attraction to Jesus, and then after a while he begins to talk about these things the disciples can't hear. He begins to play a tune, as it were, that they can't hear at all, that music. That jarring note about his passion, that the Son of Man is going to have to be handed into the hands of men, and the chief priests and the scribes will condemn him, and he'll be mocked and scourged and crucified. It's something they just don't know how to handle. They can't put it together with what they see in it. Especially Peter, you remember, has to repeat it. And then a verse in Benedict which, after all, is written right along this axis of the descent.

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He who exalts himself shall be humbled, he who humbles himself shall be exalted. This descent which is an ascent, and this is precisely what we see in the Gospel, in the Gospel of John. And we keep learning that it's something that we really can't do ourselves. All that we can do is to try to orient ourselves rightly towards that which God does. All we can do is confront, as it were, history and truth. And the Word gives us the ability to do that. Something about the structure of John's Gospel. According to Brown, John's Gospel is divided into two great sections. The first is called the Book of Signs, and extends up through chapter 12, up through the entry into Jerusalem. And the second part he calls the Book of Glory, because it's completely involved with this movement towards the glorification of Jesus. And, of course, most of it occurs within a few days. John 13 starts with the banquet already,

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and then a couple of days more it's the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection. Whereas the Book of Signs has gone out over a longer period, and we've had this kind of crescendo of miraculous acts of Jesus. There are seven signs there, and they start with the changing of the water of the wine at Cana. The first of the signs where Jesus revealed his glory already, and which has some kind of significance that permeates all the other signs. Then there was the curing of the wild official's son at Cana, which is a curious little miracle because it's just passed over, it doesn't immediately seem to relate to anything else. There's the curing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida. The multiplication of the loaves, which is very important. Walking upon the Sea of Galilee immediately afterwards. Curing the man blind from birth. That marvelous long discourse after. And then the raising of Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus is the sign which somehow gathers them all together and orients them towards the great sign, which is the glory.

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The great sign which is the resurrection of Jesus himself. And which is the same thing as this glory, whatever it is that's approaching. The strange thing about the glory, a couple of strange things about it, and the title of the Book of Glory, is that a lot of it is concerned with a descent, not with an ascent. And every time we talk about a movement upwards, it's immediately got this other side to it, the movement downwards. When Jesus talks about his being lifted up, it's completely ironic because it means crucifixion. And yet behind the crucifixion, there's another term. And that he's lifted up really into a position of absolute Lordship. So there are double ironies within all of these things. And the other thing about the Book of Glory is, you think of it as the glorification of Jesus, but actually what he's concerned with, very largely, is the gift that he's going to make to us, the gift that he's going to make to those who believe in him, which is himself, which is his dwelling inside of us. In other words, he speaks to us of coming and living with us,

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living in us, in his glory. In fact, that in some way is his glory. Remember at the beginning of chapter 17, the prayer of Jesus, the great prayer at the end of the sermon. It says, Father, now let, I'm saying it very partially the way I remember it, but let your Son be glorified. And this is the glory, as it were, that he has power over all flesh. And that power is what? And life, eternal life, is to know you and your Son, Jesus Christ. So it all revolves somehow around this knowledge which is given to us, and which is Christ himself, and which is within us. That's the great lesson, that's the great mystery. There's a mystery that works itself out in time, there's a mystery which is always present and is within. The parables sort of are divided that way. You've got the parables of the hidden treasure, and you've got the parable of the working out of something in time. Okay, the hidden glory. The hidden glory because it's in a descent that somehow it's manifested.

[45:06]

And the hidden glory because it's inside of us. It's an indwelling glory. After, at the end of the discourse, in John 16, Jesus says these mysterious words. I wonder if you've ever stopped to consider them. I have said this to you in figures. Now he's talking about the discourse when he's used a certain number of images there. We'll talk about that later. But what he says applies to all that's gone before, including the signs, including all the things that he did. The wonders that he did and the ordinary things that he did in living with his disciples. I have said this to you in figures. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but tell you plainly of the Father. But the fact is that he's just been talking about the Father. He's just been saying everything that he could say in words. So what does he mean by I'll no longer talk to you in figures? It's as if even his human words, even speech is a figure compared to what he's going to, the way that he's going to talk to us. The way that he's going to speak to us when he, the Word of God, is within us,

[46:09]

is in our own life, is in our own consciousness. And that's what's in us now. That's what's waiting for us to listen to him now. Okay, let's take a look at the episode in John 13 where Jesus washes his disciples' feet. I'm never content with feeling that I've understood what he means when he does that. There's level after level, it's like an onion. It's a strange beginning for the Book of Glory. It's a strange beginning in that he strips himself, dresses himself like a servant, and then performs his menial task, which the experts say wasn't the thing that a Jew would do for another Jew. That would be a non-Jewish servant who might do that. And yet the disciples of the rabbis were said to like to perform that service for their masters. It seems to me that was true of the Desert Fathers too. All right, the scene. The scene is very special in here because Jesus' hour has come. And you have to think of him, the imagination is precious in these things.

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Even if your imagination is very blurry, it's very beneficial to apply it to these things. We don't have to see things clearly, but just to have a kind of picture. And he's in this upper room with his disciples and now his way of speaking, as it were, changes. And he's almost like a different person. Something opens up from within him. And he begins to pour himself out with this terrific warmth, with this intimacy. And it's as if the Word is pouring himself out in words. As far as words will go in expressing what he's going to do. And then the only thing he can do after that is to do it, which means to disappear into it. Which means, in a way, to disappear into the disciples. That's what this movement towards glory seems to mean. Okay, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God. That's kind of a solemn preface. He rose from supper, laid aside his garments, girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, which I think is significant.

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I think that's a symbolic gesture too. And began to wash the disciples' feet. Of course, Peter objects. And then afterwards he gives a little explanation of what he's done. He says it's an example for them. So our first interpretation is that it's an example. Of what? Of humility, certainly. Of service, too. Perhaps also of forgiveness. There's this water and the washing of the feet. And he speaks of their being clean, yet not all clean. Judas is still there. There's a note of forgiveness about that. Because remember that almost all of them are going to abandon it. And for Peter's denial. And is there more to it? Somehow I think there is more to it. The pouring out resembles in some way, symbolically, what Jesus is going to do with himself. Remember when he's on the cross. And when, after he's dead, the water and the blood pour out. And remember, as John says, He gave up his spirit. It means he just gave up his breath. But really it means that he passes on the Holy Spirit.

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The Spirit that is in him in some way is transmitted. He pours out his blood. He pours out the water. He pours out the Spirit. He's poured himself out completely somehow. Then remember how he breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples on the resurrection day of the Gospel of John. I think this is all in there somehow. He pours himself out to cleanse them. He pours himself out to fill them. And it's as if his person turns into that of a mother almost. The Fathers used to love to talk about Jesus giving birth to the church through this rent in his side. You know, this hole in his side. As Adam gave birth to Eve. And there he's masculine and feminine at the same time. He's a mother. And he's speaking like a mother somehow here. He's speaking like that feminine wisdom once again. There's a relation to Jesus' baptism by John. Remember when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus?

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And that was the point at which it was marked out that Jesus was actually to succeed John. That's the moment where, like Elijah and Elisha. Elijah's about to disappear. Elisha comes on the scene at the river. And so it goes. Now, this is a similar point. Because Jesus is about to be succeeded by whom? Jesus is foretelling another one is to follow him. He's like John the Baptist in a way. As long as he's walking around on earth, he's still kind of a precursor himself. And as he says, there's another paraklete to come. He's to be succeeded by another who is, of course, the paraklete, the Holy Spirit. But he's also to be succeeded by those whom he washes, those whom he initiates. Those are his disciples. Those are ourselves. We, in a way, are his successors. Because we are him, the way he wants to be in this world. There's also a connection, as I mentioned, with the washing of Jesus' feet, the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany. The baptism of Jesus was such a...

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I think in John it's indicated that it was at Bethany, but that's a different Bethany. It may not just be a coincidence. There are a string of wisdom quotations that could be read here from the Old Testament just to kind of give this flesh, but we don't really have time for that, so I'll move on. We talked about a kind of crisis of wisdom, I think, in the Old Testament. You have this image of Solomon in the tradition as the archetypal wise man. Remember, he's also a king. So in Solomon we see wisdom, but we also see beauty, and we also see glory, and we also see power, all of those things. And then we also see corruption, as Solomon gradually sort of rots, maybe out of an excess of wisdom. And in the tradition, similarly, we begin to see the wisdom thing having a certain ambiguity within it. Ecclesiastes, who is also a kind of Solomon figure, and yet who moves into a kind of cynicism. A kind of cynicism, however,

[52:25]

which is itself a kind of wisdom, a kind of disillusionment with the possibilities of human life on their own level. And yet within all of that disillusion, there's an inner faith which makes him, in the end, say yes. The book of Ecclesiastes is an affirmation, despite its apparent cynicism. But the crisis of wisdom really shows up with Job. Job, remember, and his three friends. His three friends represent the traditional wisdom of that time. And yet, they all say very beautiful things. If you read those speeches, you probably couldn't think of anything better today extracting from the Christian solution to Job's problem. It doesn't do Job any good. His pain has more authority than all of their philosophy, than all of their wisdom. And finally, only God's appearance can answer this question, and even then it isn't answered. The question of the sufferings of Job, the gaping hole of the suffering of the innocent man, it still isn't solved. It points towards the Incarnation.

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That's all we can say. There's no answer to Job's suffering, not even in the book of Job. There's a further step, it seems, in those servant poems, if I say, where we really see a theology, a possible glimmer of light emerging as to the meaning of that song, which only really emerges, and really faces forward in Jesus. So somehow, Job and the servant together lead towards Jesus, who in some way, in himself, embraces, comprehends the suffering of both of those personages. Let's jump now to Job chapter 18 and chapter 19. The arrest of Jesus, his trial, and his passion. And I'll have to rush along, it's unfortunate here. Chapter 18

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begins, I'll jump the whole suffering up, and we'll come back to it afterwards. When Jesus had spoken these words, the last words of his prayer to the public, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron Valley where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now just to illustrate the kind of importance of looking for the Old Testament connections of this kind of thing, especially in Job, if you will look in 2 Samuel chapter 15, this crossing of the Kidron, of course, recalls the crossing of the Kidron by David when he was running away from his son Absalom, who was about to be besieged and injured. Do you remember that? Now if you look up the figure of David, and we know David from the Psalms, we sing the Psalms every day, around that figure of David there's enormous mass of feeling of sentiment, of attraction, of admiration. David is the man in the Old Testament who has a heart. David is about as far as you can go

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in the direction of genuine human glory, of genuine authenticity, of genuine human quality, aside from his sins. His sins are a part of him. And in some way, all of this is appropriated into this point in the Gospel, when Jesus is going across the Kidron and he's about to be betrayed. Well, there's also a counselor, if you remember, a counselor of David named Echidaphos who's gone over to Absalom and he and Judas somehow are in a direct line with one another. Judas represents similarly some kind of counselor, some kind of wise man. He's got his own kind of wise man, which he operates with, his own kind of wisdom which operates with a calculator it seems, which adds up the dollars, the shekels. And Echidaphos betrays David in a similar way. Let me read you this little passage just to encourage you to check out

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some of these things. Echidaphos giving counsel to Absalom, who is after his father David. He says, let me choose 12,000 men and I will set out and pursue David tonight. David's run away. David's gone out into the dark, just like Jesus. I will come upon him while he's weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down a king only and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man and all the people will be at peace. And then so on. In the end, Echidaphos hangs himself. Try and find somebody else in the Old Testament who hangs himself. There's only Echidaphos and David. But you can

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see somehow the richness, the wealth of not only of what you call history, but also of emotion that lies behind these things in John's Gospel. There's a lot more of it to be found, I'm sure. All that pathos of David. Whom do you seek when they come towards Jesus? Jesus and Nazareth. They drew back and fell to the ground. And wait a minute, he answers, I am. That's usually how the translation says I am. He answers, I am. And they fall back to the ground. And here we have the wisdom figure once again. The picture that you get of Jesus and his passion and going through all of this is much different than John and his other Gospels. You don't see weakness or kind of apprehension or fear for a moment in John except in the last patrol. He says my soul is troubled. But he says he's

[58:31]

standing outside of himself, as it were. And then immediately he's back in mind. And that word takes over. That light. That regal figure also. The tribe before Pilate. There's a big difference. If we look at Pilate, his attitude towards Jesus, this kind of indifference he has, this unwillingness, this agitation, this fear, this cowardice, even the spitefulness of Pilate, it's sort of like the example of human politics cringing in the face of a difficult decision. And the decision, actually, is the one that's brought to him by Jesus who is truth. And which Pilate is not ready to accept. Let me read a little bit of this. Pilate entered the pictorium again and called Jesus and said to him,

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Are you the king of the Jews? Jesus answered, Do you say this of your own accord or did others say it to you about me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Your own nation and chief priest have handed me over to you. What have you done? Jesus answered, My kingship is not of this world. If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews like David's servants did and overcame Absal. But my kingship is not from this world. But my kingship is not from this world.

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